Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nichol, Spacek, Collins, and Anthony

Everyone's heard about the NBA brawl that happened last weekend in New York, right? Players fighting, a cheap shot by Carmelo Anthony on Collins, and a resulting 15 game suspension. I watch PTI religiously for some reason, even though they rarely talk about hockey. They spent a good portion of Monday's show talking about the brawl. And inevitably, the racial component comes up. Mike Wilbon made the good point that there have been NBA fights since the 50's, and no one complained then about the violence in the sport, and the "thuggish" behavior. No argument here. He also mentioned that the fighting is worse in hockey and football, and no one complains about that. I have a bit of an issue with that, but read on.

So I wouldn't even be blogging about this if there wasn't a similar incident in the NHL just a few days ago. Scott Nichol of the Preds gets driven into the net by Joseph Spacek of the Sabres, the net comes off it's moorings and Nichol goes down. With Spacek's back to him, Nichol drops one glove, comes up behind him, and hits him in the jaw from behind. Spacek goes down like a sack of bricks, but has no long term injury. Nichol gets 9 games for the cheap shot.

This is patently outrageous. If you saw the Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore a couple of years ago and the Nichol hit side by side, without knowing the aftermath of the hits, you would think the Nichol hit was much much worse. Bertuzzi had his glove on when he hit Moore, and the hit came partially to his helmet. Nichol hit Spacek flush in the face with his fist. The only reason Nichol got only 9 games is because Spacek wasn't hurt.

Maybe Spacek's drive of Nichol into the post was cheap. I doubt it. I've watched it a few times, and I think if Nichol wanted to bail out on the play, he could have easily avoided the post. Nichol was ahead of Spacek, and he wasn't being held, although his stick was tied up. Hockey is full of plays like this- two players struggling against each other, and someone gets rammed into something or someone.

The reason hockey isn't "worse" in the fighting department than the NBA is because there a set of written and unwritten rules about it. If Nichol turned Spacek around, dropped the gloves, and went after him, then it's a fair fight. No problem. The problem with the NBA is no one knows how to fight worth a damn, and there all this crap with players swinging wildly, refs not knowing what to do, people falling into the stands, etc. Carmelo's punch was about as cheap as Nichol's but he's a little punkass. He threw the shot at an unsuspecting Collins, then ran away. Classy. Nichol at least kept going while all the Sabres piled on.

But Nichol should have gotten 25 games. It actually worse when stuff like this happens in hockey, precisely because there's a semi-legal way for these conflicts to be resolved. If Spacek refuses to fight in that situation, then he gets hit at every possible opportunity for the rest of the game, and maybe beyond. He puts his head down in the neutral zone, and he'll wish he fought Nichol.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More OPPGATT and other madness

You may recall in a previous post I invented a new statistic, called Opponents' Points Per Game At The Time, or OPPGATT. This is an attempt to measure how good a team is when the target team (in this case, the Sharks) plays them. Specifically I was using it to try and evaluate the difficulty of Nabokov's starts vs. Toskala's, and I came to the conclusion that Nabokov has faced much tougher opposition. Purely by the luck of the draw, since they have played in alternate games every time this season.

Aren't there other factors we can use to evaluate how tough an opponent is? What I'm trying to avoid is specific game-type decisions and team status, stuff like injuries, scratches, and starting goalies. Then we get into the minutia of individual match ups, scheduling issues, and other stuff. What I'm looking for now is more macro-level type stuff.

Isn't home vs. away such an indicator? As of today, this season, teams are on average getting 1.17 points per game at home, and 1.02 points per game on the road. By my count, there are only 5 teams in the NHL (the Rangers, Penguins, Sabres, Senators, Bruins, and Lightning) that have better records on the road than at home. Some teams, like the Wild, are dominating at home (13-3-1) but are just godawful on the road (4-11-1).

The thesis is this, and not that controversial - road games are harder to win than home games. But the real question is, how much harder? One more useful number: the overall average of points awarded per game is 1.099. That means an away game is a 0.07 point handicap, and a home game is a 0.07 point advantage.

We can apply this modifier to my OPPGATT number directly, since they are also in the units of points/game. All of Nabby's toughest games were at home, so they weren't quite as tough using just OPPGATT. However, two of Toskala's toughest three games were away, so those games were a hair tougher than we thought.

Overall, it closes the gap a bit in terms of toughest games, but the outcome is the same, mostly because the discrepancy was so large to begin with.

I might try to use these number to evaluate the quality of starts in a future post. Shouldn't losses against bad teams hurt a goalie's (or team's) respectability (for lack of a better term) more than a loss to good opposition? More to come...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Exhilaration

I didn't get to start watching the Sharks game until midnight on Saturday. But I sure wasn't going to bed until I knew what happened. At the holiday party that evening, all my friends were giving me shit, pretending to announce the status after checking the score on their cell phones. I even had "DON'T TALK ABOUT THE SHARKS GAME' on my drink glass for the night.

I'm not going to do a whole recap, because I'm sure the Mercury News or ESPN has a better summary than what I will be able to produce. All I can say is that the Ducks are a fearsome team, especially on special teams. One thing I noticed in particular is they didn't hesitate to collapse on Joe when he was behind the net on the PP, but they would give him space on the half-boards. Haven't seen other teams take that tactic. Joe usually finds the open man when he gets challenged like that.

And my pessimistic side showed in the 3rd period, when the Ducks took the lead 3-2. I think there was about 8 minutes left in the game, and my heart sank. I said, "that's it", and was immediately admonished by Doug. He told me to take it back. All I could think about were the Sharks of years past, and maybe the NHL of years past, when a late go-ahead goal meant doom for the other team. But those years are past- the Sharks don't use it as an excuse to lose. They suck it up and go back to work. Cheech scored only seconds later, and I was forced to say "I take it back, and I have no reason to criticize." Then Joe put one in with 3 minutes left to give the Sharks their only lead, and the only one that matters.

Wow! At that moment, it was hard to remember it's just a regular season game in December. Beating the unquestioned class of the NHL is a big time statement. After that bad loss a month ago, I started to wonder if the Sharks would even have a chance. This game really showed for the first time in their history that the Sharks can beat anyone in the NHL, and even come from behind against a team with two Norris winners. As a long time Sharks fan, that feeling is new and exhilarating.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Trap Game

One of my favorite sports columnists, King Kaufman, uses a phrase that applies perfectly to the debacle last night. For instance, this is what he said about Washington playing the Saints this Sunday (the caps means he's picking Washington to win):

WASHINGTON (4-9) at New Orleans (9-4): Trap game! Trap! Trap! Trap! The Saints routed the Cowboys in a huge national TV game in Dallas Sunday night, they're in -- OK, near -- the Big Apple and the Giants circus next week. This week they get Washington, which can't get out of its own way. Trap! I'm picking it.
This is what happened to the Sharks last night. The Ducks are coming! The Ducks are coming! After a 5-0 drubbing on November 21st that even casual Sharks fans still have nightmares about, I can imagine that the players and coaches might have been a bit preoccupied. And with four games in six days, a letdown isn't unexpected. Especially when you are about to play a team with three friggin' losses in 34 games.

Does it suck that they lost to a bad team that didn't have their #1 D-man and their starting goaltender? Sure. But it's part of the learning experience for this young team. Actually the coaches might be secretly glad. If the Sharks were riding a 4 game winning streak into Saturday, there could be a lack of hunger against Anaheim. As coaches say, the hardest time to get players motivated is when they're winning. Ron Wilson can crack the whip today; the players will be listening.

WTF is going on here?

So I read this today, because I check ESPN's NHL page like Dr. House takes Vicodin. Then something in my wee little brain says, hey, I've heard this guy's name before vis-a-vis the Sharks. So I do a bit of searching, and find Traverse's player card on TSN, the Canadian sports channel.

Trades:
28-Sep-06: Montreal Canadiens claimed Patrick Traverse
off waivers from the San Jose Sharks.
10-Jul-06: Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the
San Jose Sharks.
09-Sep-04: Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the
Dallas Stars.
21-Feb-01: Montreal Canadiens traded Eric Weinrich to
the Boston Bruins for Patrick Traverse.
18-Nov-00: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim traded Patrick
Traverse and Andrei
Nazarov to the Boston Bruins for Sami
Pahlsson.
12-Jun-00: Ottawa Senators traded Patrick Traverse
to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for Joel
Kwiatkowski.
20-Jun-92: Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 3rd
round (50th overall) in 1992.
First of all, how dumb are the Habs to trade Eric Weinrich, a solid NHL defenseman, for Traverse, who was 27 at the time with about a hundred NHL games played? But I digress.

So lemme get this straight. The Sharks sign Traverse in June as an unrestricted free agent. He gets no playing time. He gets sent down to the minors. In the process, he has to clear waivers. Montreal claims him off of waivers. But he doesn't play for Montreal either. So the Sharks trade one player they never use, Martin Biron, for a different player they never used, Patrick Traverse.

McLaren is nursing some injury or another, but we have Carle, Ehrhoff, Hannan, Vlasic, Gorges, Davison, and Murray. Do we really need a 9th defenseman? A 32-year-old who last had anything approaching a full NHL season in 2002-2003? Who has 279 career NHL games, and 65 career NHL points? This makes zero sense to me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Toskala is better than Nabby this year, right?

Not so fast. BoC is a good hockey blog for us west-coasters, and Mike Chen, who writes about the Sharks, has a good post on the Nabby vs. Tosk debate. As the post shows, one can make the case that Nabby has faced much tougher opponents than Toskala. In terms of the "pushover" set, Nabby has faced the Islanders (who aren't really a pushover now at 15-11-3) and Phoenix once. Toskala has faced St. Louis twice, Columbus, Philly, and the Kings three times. Their stats are basically identical, and Nabby has one more shutout.

But read the comments of the post too- In the 'tough' starts, Tosk has fared better.

Here's my own analysis. You have to factor in the strength of the team's record when you face them. There may not be that many swings now, but to use one example, the Penguins were 7-3-0 when we faced them in November. Now they are 13-11-5. It might be interesting to use the opponent's record for the previous ten games, but I already did the analysis based on the "at the time" (ATT) record, so too bad. Maybe in a future post.

The ATT record Nabokov has faced so far this season is 132-91-17, where Toskala's is 90-108-29. But since the most recent games will be more heavily weighted (the most recent game against the Kings had their record 11-16-4, but the first time it was 5-9-3), we should use points per game instead. The average Opponents Points Per Game At the Time (OPPGAAT, hehe) is 1.13 for Nabokov, 0.908 for Toskala. That's a big difference. Extrapolate that points per game for a season, and Nabokov is facing a 92-point team vs Toskala facing a 74-point team.

In the comments thread, they talk about tough games, but using OPPGAAT, Nabby's 4 toughest games are the toughest of the season thus far. Those were the first Minnesota game (loss), the second Minnesota game (win), the Anaheim game (loss), and the most recent Nashville game (win). All those had an OPPGAAT of 1.39 and higher. Toskala's toughest game (using OPPGAAT) was a win against Detroit, with an OPPGAAT of 1.33.

So Nabby has a worse record against "tough" opponents, but Nabby's "toughest" opponents were "tougher" than Toskala's "toughest" opponents. By a lot. That may be the most time the root "tough" has ever been used in a sentence. Comparing Toskala's most difficult starts against Nabokov's is not a level playing field. Nabokov has faced tougher starts, and more of them.

Nabby has clearly had the better season, in my opinion.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Great Goal

You don't see this move that often, at least not since Denis Savard and Guy LaFleur:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New scheduling scheme

The NHL governors are meeting about the cap, but they are also talking about tweaking the schedule. Apparently they want to cut the number of interdivision games (currently 8) and increase the interconference games. Since the Sharks are in the Pacific division, it would seem reducing the number of interdivision games would benefit them, but I kind of like playing the Ducks 8 times, the games should be great. Certain scheduling tweaks can have two teams playing each other several times in a short period of time, but so what? That's what a series is all about, when the memories are fresh.

But what I don't like about the NHL schedule is that each team doesn't play an entire division each year. This year for the Sharks, it's the Atlantic. No Canadiens, Senators, Bruins, Maple Leafs, or Sabres this year. I like the symmetry of each team playing every other. Rumors are some teams are pissed about not getting butts in the seats to see Ovechkin or Crosby because some teams never play 'em, but I don't care about that. With 82 games in a season and 30 teams, every team should play every other at least once.

So here's my proposed schedule, which will never fly. Mostly because it reduces the number of games in a season, and as I may have mentioned before, I don't think there's a single time in history when a financially stable league reduced the number of games. Games mean revenue. More games mean more revenue. Anyway, I would reduce the number of interdivision games from 8 to 5. One benefit is less games, the other is that with an odd number of games, there will generally be a demonstrable 'series winner'. Then I would include one game against the 'missing' division. This would reduce the overall schedule by 7 games, from 82 to 75, a nice round number. So what about it, NHL? Maybe this will keep the playoff from going into June.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Yesterday was a holiday

Thanks for reminding me, Battle of California, one year ago yesterday the destiny of the Sharks franchise changed. It shall be dubbed Joe Thornton day. On November 30, 2005, the Sharks were on a 10-game losing streak. That night, before a game against the Stars (which they lost), it was revealed that Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart were late scratches for the game. Doug and I frantically dialed each other, madly contemplating what this meant. We were sure a trade was on. Given some horrible signings and deals the Sharks have made in the past (see Belfour, Ed), I was very worried. We speculated on Martin St. Louis, a player that one the MVP, but was having a bad year.

Neither of us ever dreamed it would be Joe Thornton. I still remember the excitement I felt when I realized we were getting one of the premier players in the game. I was worried about what I like to call "Ray Sheppard" disease, when a player comes to the Sharks and immediately sucks, only to regain past glory the instant they move to another team. Those worries were allayed within a month. Joe was on fire, and his nuclear explosion of points irradiated Jonathan Cheechoo to light up brighter than ever before. Ok, a tortured analogy. Joe went on to win the Hart and the Ross; Cheechoo won the Richard. And now the Sharks have the 3rd best record in the NHL.

Ahhh, good times. I hope to celebrate Joe Thornton day for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Quarter Pole Report : State of the Sharks

I think I did this last season. Some friends of mine also like to put out a report on their respective teams, now that the season is a quarter over. Here goes.

Goaltending: 8
The Sharks have arguably the best goalie tandem in hockey with Toskala (10-2) and Nabokov (5-5). Just for the record, all of Nabokov's losses came against probable playoff teams (Minnesota, Rangers, Anaheim, Edmonton, and Detroit). I only gave an 8 because while having two netminders is a strength now, the longer we get into the season the bigger a liability it will become. Especially if their respective records have a similar disparity. Tosk will want the #1, and Nabby is making #1 money with a no-trade clause.

Defense: 7
Clearly the Sharks' biggest weakness. The 6th spot is still up in the air, with Gorges, Davison, and Murray all rotating in and out. Nobody has played well enough to lock it up. Hannen is a rock, Matt Carle is a stud, and McLaren hip-checks like a freight train. Trading one of the goaltenders for a solid defenseman (Jovo and Boynton have been rumored) could possible kill two birds with one stone. You know who I really miss? Tom Preissing.

Forwards: 8
Joe is being Joe, but the Marleau-Bernier-Michalek line is the best on the Sharks right now. Cheech is hurt, and Bell, once thought to be the answer to the "Nils Ekman issue", has been relegated to 3rd or 4th like duty. Michalek has been playing on the top line a bit, along with Mike Grier. The third and fourth lines have been doing their job well, with being pests, keeping the puck deep, and creating a decent chance now and again, but the top line needs to be more stable and scoring in order for the Sharks to get a 9 here.

Special Teams: 10
Clearly, the best special teams units the Sharks have ever had. The Sharks are currently #1 in the NHL in PP, #7 in PK. Curtis Brown and Mike Grier have shored up the PK, and putting Marleau and Carle at the points with Joe, Michalek and Cheech on the PP is a deadly combination of skating and shooting skill. Now that Joe is shooting more than last season, the opposing D have a Hobson's choice.

Coaching: 8
There wasn't much pressure up until now with the Ducks the clear favorites to take the Pacific in the pre-season polls, and the fact that they didn't lose a game until last week. But ESPN has San Jose at #1 in the power rankings, and they are no longer a secret. This will raise expectations, and the Sharks will become of of those teams that other teams get up for, like the Wings. As long as Toskala and Nabokov aren't sniping at each other in the press, the coaches are doing a good job.

First quarter Stud: Patrick Marleau - the captain should be on the All-Star team.
First quarter Dud: Mark Bell - I'm willing to be patient, since he got the DUI and everything. But he seems to skate and shoot like a Zamboni. I have no idea how he scored 25 goals like that... there's something missing here. He needs to find it- quick.
Biggest Surprise - Dallas. They lost Arnott and stripped Modano of the captaincy. I was sure that would sow seeds of discontent, but they are still only two points behind.
Biggest Disappointment - Ottawa. How they are under .500 with a lineup like that is putting on a clinic of underachieving.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Road Trip Grade: A-

Some might be surprised that I give the recent 4 game roadtrip such a high grade. They played 3 teams, all not very good, and only got 6 points out of 8 possible. By the Sharks' own admission, they played poorly against the Coyotes, the second game against the Kings (where they lost) and Colorado, for significant stretches. However, this feeling about the Sharks is almost entirely new to me. In past years, when the Sharks would play badly, they'd get shellacked. As this recent road trip shows, the Sharks are capable of sucking for a while, pulling up their (hockey) socks, and squeaking out a win.

This ability to win even in non-ideal circumstances is the mark of a good team. It's fantasy to think the Sharks will have their best game every night, or even 95% of the time. There will be plenty of games where they are discombobulated for a period, a power play, or an entire game. Poor teams give up 2 goals during a bad stretch of time, and flog themselves the rest of the game for doing it. Good teams have that selective amnesia - forget about the bad things that just happened - and go back work, knowing they can still win. In the case of the game against Phoenix, we played just crappy pretty much the entire time. But the Sharks managed to find a decent opportunity to score, made it happen, and kept the puck out of their own net. It'd be great to put a 5-0 beatdown on the Sabres, but that 2-1 squeaker has a satisfaction all its own.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Big Road Trip Coming

One of those sports clich├ęs I really hate is that "good teams need to beat teams that are worse than they are". I guess there's a small amount of wisdom here, although I have trouble wrapping my mind around teams that only beat the teams that are better than they are. Does that mean those teams suck? Anyway, the Sharks have a four-game road trip coming up that applies to this "truism". They need to collect as many points as possible in playing the Kings twice, the Coyotes, and the Avalanche.

I thought the Avs were bad, but as of now, they are 7-5-2, good enough for second in the Northwest. They have 4 fewer points than the Sharks, but the Sharks are third in the Pacific, easily the toughest division in hockey. I still don't think the Avs will make the playoffs, and I think the Sharks should win that game, even in as hostile an environment as Denver is.

Tomorrow night San Jose faces off against the Wild, a team that made the Sharks look foolish at home on September 21st, beating them 4-1. I was there that night, and it was pretty embarrassing. Mark Parrish was forechecking everything, and the Wild played the defensive style that frustrates so many teams. I hope the Sharks can remember that drubbing to bring something a little extra tomorrow night. The Wild, unlike Colorado, have improved in the offseason, and should make the playoffs; they may even win the division.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hockey All the Time

The season is 5 games old for the Sharks, and they are 4-1. The Blues game on opening night was a good one, with the Blues putting up more than a fight than I thought they would. Tkachuk still manages to be a pain in the ass with his physical play. Guerin and Weight, while declining the past few years, are wily veterans than made our young D look foolish at times.

The second game was against the Islanders, which the Sharks won 2-0. Nabby put in a great effort against a terrible team. The Isles have one legitimate top-6 forward, Alexei Yashin, and that's a bit of a stretch. Plus, they are the #3 hockey team in the tri-state area. I was watching a bit of the Islanders-Predators game on Center Ice last night, and to say Nassau Coliseum was half full would be charitable. Just a horrible turnout.

The third game was against the Flames, and the Sharks continued their dominance of Calgary, continuing their pre-season streak. Alex Tanguay scored their only goal late in the game on the power play. The Flames continue to have offensive troubles. After you get past Iginla and Tanguay, who does Calgary have that can put the puck in the net consistently? Amonte? 14 goals last year. Freisen, the old Sharks #39? 17 in 2005-2006. Their #2 scorer last year was Daymond Langkow, with 25 goals. Third? A rookie defensemen, Dion Phaneuf. Not good.

The game against the Oilers was the heartbreaker. Cheechoo had a hat trick, it was the third period, and the Sharks were up 4-2 in the Oilers' building. Then the floor fell out. Ryan Smyth had a hat trick in a little over 2 minutes to give the Oilers a 5-4 lead, and they went on to win 6-4. This is the only game I didn't watch (my TiVo forgot) and I'm glad. I have a feeling I would have broken something if I watched that. A brutal loss against the Sharks' opponent in the Western Conference Semis last year.

To the Sharks' credit, they rebounded in Vancouver the next night in a back and forth game, winning 6-4. Goals game from the most unlikely of players- Curtis Brown and Mike Grier scored on breakaways, and Rissmiller and Niemenen also scored. I must say, the Sedins with Naslund is a pretty fearsome line. Daniel had a pretty stunning goal on a cut to the middle. Ohlund and Willie Mitchell are holding the blue line down fairly well for the Canucks, but it's apparent they miss Ed Jovanovski. Even Luongo can't keep the puck out of the net when there are 2 or 3 guys in the crease.

So tonight, we play one of the three undefeated teams in the Dallas Stars. Their new big signing, Brendan Morrow, is leading their team with 4 goals. Their record might be a bit misleading- they've playing Colorado, LA twice, NJ, and the Ducks. Only the last two are actually decent. It'll be a great matchup.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Opening Night

Well, for the Sharks anyway. I buckled and bought the Center Ice package, and I got my first taste last night in watching the first period of the Ottawa-Toronto game. I plan on spending many more hours in front of the tube. Gotta keep my average household viewing time close to the national average.

We should beat St. Louis badly tonight- they don't have near the talent that we do. But they do have a number of scrappy veterans in Guerin, Tkachuk, and Weight. Those guys can hurt you at any time. I just don't think they're going to be able to keep up with Marleau, Michalek, and all of our other speedy forwards. I'm going to be paying special attention to the young D, namely Vlasic and Carle. I'll try to take a pic or two on my phone, and have a report tomorrow.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

First game moblog!


Doug and I are here and the seats are great, as you can see...

First Preseason Game Tonight

I'll be there with Doug, and hopefully I'll be able to moblog a bit on my trusty Treo 650. Here's some preview quotes about the Sharks I've cobbled together:

EJ Hradek (ESPN) :

The Sharks' summer is better characterized by what they didn't do than what they actually did. Yeah, the club did add Mark Bell (I'll get to his recent problems later), Mike Grier and Curtis Brown, a trio of helpful forwards. But GM Doug Wilson wasn't able to move one of his goaltenders. At the draft, Wilson talked with several clubs, particularly in the Eastern Conference, but he couldn't strike a deal. So, unless something changes in the coming days, the Sharks will open camp with both Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala.
Earlier in the summer, Toskala expressed hope that a deal would be made before camp. He said that if both goalies remained on the roster when training camp rolled around, it wouldn't be a good situation for either goaltender or the team.
For his part, Wilson is working to do what is absolutely best for the team. He doesn't want to give either goalie away and he doesn't seem interested in sending either stopper to another Western team. In the fall of 2003, the Sharks traded Miikka Kiprusoff to the conference rival Flames for a second-round draft pick. The rest, as they say, is history. Wilson doesn't want to take a chance that history could repeat itself. Late last season, after signing a four-year contract extension worth $21.5 million, Nabokov lost his starting job to Toskala, who started all of the club's 11 playoff games. Toskala, 28, is two years younger than Nabokov and a lot more economical after agreeing to a two-year deal that pays him $1.375 million per season. For those reasons, he's easier to trade. Of course, the Sharks might prefer to keep him and move Nabokov. Statistically, Toskala was better than Nabokov in most categories. Toskala was 23-7-4 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, while Nabokov compiled a mediocre 16-19-7 mark with a 3.10 GAA and a subpar .885 save percentage. At some point, Wilson would like to move one of his goalies, but he won't do so until he finds the best possible deal for his team. That probably means Nabokov and Toskala will share the net well into the first half of the season.
Currently, Wilson could have another problem on his hands. On Monday, Bell was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and a felony hit-and-run in San Jose. He was released on bond later that day. It's unclear what legal ramifications will come from this incident. It will, however, be a distraction for Bell, who signed a three-year deal (worth $6.5 million) with the Sharks after being acquired from the Blackhawks in a three-way deal. Coach Ron Wilson would like to see if Bell could play left wing on the club's top line with Hart Trophy-winning center Joe Thornton and Maurice Richard Award-winning right wing Jonathan Cheechoo. Some scouts believe Bell is better suited to be a third-line center instead of a first-line winger. It shouldn't take Wilson too long to figure out where he fits. Over the years, the Sharks have done an excellent job of developing their young talent. I expect they'll again be a tough opponent in the West. But until they find the right deal to move one of their goalies, they'll be somewhat distracted by their overcrowded crease.

Scott Burnside (ESPN):
The theory is that you have to fall down before you can climb the mountain, or something like that. If that's true, the San Jose Sharks might be poised to bring the Cup back to the Western Conference after a three-season absence (four if you count the lockout). The Sharks lost in the 2004 Western Conference finals and then dropped a heartbreaking second-round series last spring to
upstart Edmonton. The troubling part for the Sharks is that they blew a 2-0 series lead against the Oilers in doing so. They also led late in Game 3 before dropping what turned out to be the series-changing contest in triple overtime, all of which goes to the question of the Sharks' killer instinct and whether they have enough of it. Curiously, that's the same question being asked of defending MVP and scoring champion Joe Thornton since his arrival in the league. Still, few teams are deeper down the middle than the Sharks with Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and there's also the defending goal-scoring champion, Jonathan Cheechoo, one of the league's great feel-good stories of last season. Terrific two-way player Mike Grier arrives after being a major part of the Buffalo Sabres' run to the Eastern Conference finals. Mark Bell
will help with the offensive depth, although he faces criminal charges after an alcohol-related accident in San Jose in recent days. There are legitimate questions about depth along the blue line as Brad Stuart went in the Thornton deal and the surprising Tom Preissing left in the Bell deal. As a result, expectations are high, perhaps too high, for rookie defenseman Matt Carle. In goal, GM Doug Wilson must reconcile the very real possibility he will have a $5 million backup in the form of former rookie of the year Evgeni
Nabokov
. And that's never a good thing.


Final thought: youtube video of a Christian Ehrhoff goal in practice:

Can't wait for the game!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Goodbye Drew Remenda, hello...

Marty McSorley. Third most penalized player in NHL history. He did studio work for Fox Sports Net West in LA last year, commenting on Ducks and Kings games. I mostly remember him as a King (he was Wayne Gretzkey's protection when the Great One was there), and for the slashing incident with Donald Brashear. The two heavyweights had exchanged words and fists earlier in the game. Late in the third period, and from behind, McSorley hit Brashear on the side of the head with his stick. It wasn't a huge two-handed baseball swing, but it was enough to give Brashear a major concussion. Marty was suspended for a year, and never played in the NHL again.

I know I have gushed over youtube.com before, but I just can't get enough of it. I also found this old fight between them, when McSorley was a Shark.

Anyway, I hope Marty will bring some of the same type of commentary that Drew did. The TV announcers (Randy Hahn is the play-by-play guy) are paid by the Sharks. But despite that, Drew and Randy still took the Sharks to task on many occasions when they played poorly. They both would point out bad calls by the refs, even when the Sharks benefited. Of course they were happy when the Sharks won, and sad when they lost, but they called the game in a balanced way. Nothing is more annoying than big-time "homers" on the radio or TV. I did not see any of McSorley's analyst work last year, but I hope he will bring his 17 years of NHL experience to bear in the booth, and help fans understand the best sport there is. That includes blasting the Sharks' power play when they're only converting 10% of the time.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

We have our seats!


Doug and I went to our Select-A-Seat night last night at the Tank. We got dinner beforehand and talked strategy. There were certain sections that we were looking for, and price points we could afford. On the lower level, the seats on the sides of the rink (behind the benches and penalty boxes) were too expensive, so we were only prepared to take seats on the corners on the lower level. We agreed that we would rather sit upstairs than sit on the ends on the lower level. Your perspective of the far goal is just too poor, and lots of times you can't see play behind the closer net or in the corners.

As far as the upper deck goes, we could afford any seat except the very first row seats, which are quite expensive - more so than the corners downstairs. The first row is pretty sweet, unobstructed views (in the middle of the row), and you have a nice shelf to put your food and drinks. If we had to go upstairs, we would try to get as in the middle as possible on the side of the arena facing the benches.

We get there a few minutes early to sign in, then went downstairs with the rest of the group to the club for the "orientation". There were at least 50 or 60 people in our group, which was the first group of new season ticket holders. All the seats that were available had a colored piece of paper taped to it, with the color indicating the price. You couldn't reserve seats and then look for better ones- you sat in the seats you wanted and raised your hand, and a Sharks employee would write down what you wanted, and took the tags off of the seats. No changing your mind once you did that. The only odd rule was that you couldn't take a group of seats that would leave a single. So for us, we couldn't break up a group of 3 seats, or sit in the middle of a group of 4. Once they said go, we all piled out as fast as we could. Doug and I had a lot more urgency than most of the people- we were running around trying to find a good spot without falling down the stairs.

The biggest surprise was the number of lower bowl seats available. Quickly we noticed that the end of the arena that the Sharks attack twice was quite empty, but the other end (the Sharks' head end) had lots of green tags. We hustled over to the corner where the head was, and immediately sat down in a couple of seats in row 12. We were stoked! However, after looking at the sight lines a bit, we realized the protective netting pretty much covered our whole view of both offensive zones. Plus, the seats were so low were were not going to get a good view of one of the corners, or behind the net.

So we spotted a couple of seats on the aisle a few rows back, and sat down. These seats were even better. We had a more overhead view of the close zone, and the netting didn't obstruct the far zone. We spotted some row 2 and 3 seats in the upper bowl, so I ran up there to check them out real quick while Doug sat in our new choices. It turns out that even in rows 2 and 3, the railing that keeps people from going over the side really blocks a lot of action. You'd have to go up at least 7 or 8 rows to get an unobstructed view.

So we were sold! Section 124, row 20 on the aisle closest to the middle of the rink. Only 56 days until the first exhibition game. We can't wait.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Depth Chart

In honor of our Select-A-Seat day this week, and given a recent IM conversation I had with Doug, I think I will write a post talking about the Sharks' current depth chart:

1st line : Bell, Thornton, Cheechoo.
2nd line : Bernier, Marleau, Michalek
3rd line : Grier, Smith, Nieminen
4th line : Goc, Rissmiller, Brown

#1 D : McLaren, Carle
#2 D: Hannan, Gorges/Ehrhoff
#3 D: Ehrhoff/Gorges, Davison/Murray

I like the current state of the forward lines... there's a good combination of grit and skill. The 3rd line could be called the "energy line" or the "checking line" or whatever, but there's really more skill than that. It's not Georges Laraque and Tie Domi- guys with basically no real puck skill. I was repeatedly surprised in particular by Ville Niemenen's hands and skating ability last season. And I've been watching Mike Grier since he starred at Boston University in 1995. He's not quite clever or fast enough to be a scoring star, but he has been lauded for his smarts and leadership ability.

The Sharks' defense is a horse of a different color. I'm convinced Carle will be an All-Star in 2 or 3 years, but I think it's too much to ask for him to be a top-4 defenseman now. He might just jump right in like Dion Phaneuf, but Phaneuf is clearly the exception and not the rule. I have serious reservations about both Josh Gorges and Rob Davison even as regular NHLers. Doug Murray can hit like a truck, but he skates like a truck too. The inexperience, and lets face it, lack of talent will hurt the Sharks this season. If the Sharks manage to trade for or sign a solid top-4 stay-at-home defensemen, the blue line corps will turn from one that has holes to one that has opportunities. No longer will Gorges, Ehrhoff, and Carle be forced to regularly take on the opposing top line and kill penalities, but can be worked into that role slowly, and will have an actual chance to win the job, instead of it being forced upon them.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who will say and who will go??

Nabby. Toskala. One will be here when the season starts and one will be polishing his mask for another NHL team in October. Who would you keep? What deals are out there? Here's my take.

ST. LOUIS BLUES
They have gone for a major make-over in order to hope the city and its fans can forget the embarrassment of a team they fielded last year. The Blues have gotten active in the FA market signing Guerin, McKee, Hinote and others gives the impression that they want to be competitive again soon instead of rebuild with kids. Their two current options in net are not going to cut it - and Manny Legace is certainly not going to take them into the playoff hunt.

Are they willing to offer one of their top defensemen (Salvador, Brewer or Jackman) and a high draft pick for Toskala? Would they consider a defensemen and the high salary of Tkchuck for Nabokov and Nils Ekman? I would make both these deals and I'm sure Wilson is exploring this as an option.

DETROIT
I know this notion makes Mike feel sick to his stomach and I know Wilson will not give one our boys to them for free. Hold the Wings hostage - they want to rebuild with youth and shed some veterans? How about Toskala and a young d-man we don't need like Jim Fahy or Davison for Schneider? We get a top two defensemen and a power play master.

FLORIDA
They will be looking for a goalie when they get sick of watching Adrian Auld. Not ready to pull the trigger and I'm not sure they have much beyond Bowmeester that we would want.

I trust Doug Wilson. He has made some brilliant deals - stealing Ekman from the Rangers for nothing and raping the Bruins for Big Joe. He has made some duds (Brad Boyes for Curtis Brown and the big stinker Kipper to the Flames). But....I trust him still. He will make the right move. So read this blog Dougie boy, take off your helmet and pull the trigger. Get us the Top 4 Defensemen we need to put us over the hump and lets bring the Cup to Silicon Valley.

GO SHARKS!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The new era of Mark Bell

The Sharks were involved in a three-team deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks sent Tom Preissing and prospect Josh Hennessy to the Chicago for Mark Bell. The Hawks then sent Preissing, Hennessy, Michel Harinka, and a 2nd round pick to the Senators for Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski.

At first, it seems like the Sharks gave up a lot. Preissing had a breakout season with the Sharks, and solidified his position on the power play, and as a top-4 defenseman. I can't comment intelligently on Hennessy at all, but he did average over 1 point per game in the AHL last year.

Mark Bell is a big strong forward who has good hands around the net and can score. He also has averaged over 100 PIMs per year throughout his career, so you know he uses his size. He only scored 5 more points last year than Preissing, but keep in mind two things- he played for the 2nd worst offensive team in hockey (only St. Louis scored fewer) and Preissing got a lot of power play time with Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, who were point scoring machines on the PP.

Chicago has agreed to terms with Havlat for 3 years and $18M. Smolinski is 34, and can give veteran leadership. It bums me out a bit that we didn't get Havlat, but given how much more Chicago gave up, we probably would have had to ship another one of our good young players as well as Preissing, which Doug Wilson probably didn't want to do.

I haven't seen enough of Mark Bell to really get a bead on how good he can be with the Sharks, but I'm going to try and keep an open mind. The Sharks have now given up two top-4 defensemen in the past year, and not signed any. It seems all the teams that went deep in the playoffs have at least one premier blueliner, and the Sharks are decidedly thin in that department.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Open the floodgate

The free agency period has started, and there have been almost too many moves to count. It seems every team has made a major trade, or signed a major free agent. I might post some more general thoughts later, but for now, I'm going to discuss the changes in the Pacific division in detail. There are just too many moves to really do a league-wide analysis justice while keeping it under 5000 words.

I did my best to get the gained/lost lists right, but I gleaned them by hand from the ESPN NHL transaction list. I can't use the team transaction pages because it doesn't have the players lost.

Anaheim Ducks - Upgrade
Lost: Joffrey Lupol, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Friesen, Ruslan Salei, draft picks
Gained: Chris Pronger
Seems like the Ducks lost a lot, but they gained more. Lupol and Salei were good players, but nowhere on the same level as Pronger. No doubt they got better. Their power play, with Niedermayer and Pronger on the point, will be fearsome to behold.

Dallas Stars - Downgrade
Lost: Jason Arnott, Bill Guerin, Willie Mitchell, Johan Hedberg, Niko Kapanen, 7th rounder
Gained: Darryl Sydor, Patrick Stefan, Jaroslav Modry, Jeff Halpern, Matthew Barnaby
Losing Arnott and Guerin hurts the Stars. They gained two good but not great defensemen in Sydor (who played in Dallas from 1996 through 2003) and Modry. Patrick Stefan may in fact be the worst #1 pick in the last 20 years. Maybe Alexander Daigle was worse, depends if you ask an Ottawa fan. I personally thought Willie Mitchell was one of the best trade deadline pickups of last season, and they let him go for nothing. Dallas will certainly not win the division next season.

Los Angeles Kings - Downgrade
Lost: Pavol Demitra, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Corvo, Mark Parrish
Gained: Brian Willsie, Alyn McAuley, Scott Thornton, Rob Blake, Patrick O'Sullivan
I only rate the Kings as a slight downgrade. They traded Demitra on draft day for O'Sullivan and draft picks (they got Jonathan Bernier with their first round pick, no relation to Steve). Blake will help on the power play, but he's 36- there's no way to predict how many games he'll play. Demitra was rickety too, so it's hard to say how many games were lost by trading him. Corvo and Parrish were pretty big hits, especially since Parrish went to a Western team. Roenick is barely a role player at this point.

Phoenix Coyotes - Upgrade
Lost: Paul Mara, picks
Gained: Ed Jovonovski, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Morrison, Nick Boynton, picks
The Boynton-for-Mara deal was another dumb trade for the Bruins. Mara has slightly more offensive upside, but Boynton is bigger, stronger, and a solid defensive plus player. Jovanovski was one of the biggest free agent signings so far. Roenick was probably a PR move more than anything else, but could end up being a nice surprise in the scoring department. The Coyotes will be much tougher on D this year, and could be a playoff threat.

San Jose Sharks - Push
Lost:
Alyn McAuley, Scott Thornton
Gained: Mike Grier, Curtis Brown
The Havlat-Toskala deal died when the Senators managed to sign Martin Gerber from the Hurricanes, so the Sharks end up essentially standing pat for another offseason. We were in the Pronger sweepstakes apparently, but the Oilers didn't need a goalie since they re-signed Roloson. They wanted "three young players" which probably meant Bernier, Ehrhoff, Michalek, or Carle. I think the Sharks were wise in not giving them up. Right now our trade bait is Nabokov or Toskala- we shouldn't ditch the young core of the team. Signing Mike Grier was a good move, for essentially the same salary amount we gained by releasing Thornton. But the Sharks still need a decent left wing.

I'm not excited about facing Phoenix or Anaheim 8 times next season with the moves they made. But it ain't over yet. There are some free agents still out there that I think can add value for us.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Havlat rumors continue

So the current rumor is that the Sharks are willing to trade Vesa Toskala to the Senators for Martin Havlat, but there's a hangup. Havlat only has one year left on his contract, and the Sharks want him signed to 3 more years if they make the trade. I'm not sure which party is holding things up, whether Havlat wants to test free agency in a year, or other terms of the deal are contentious, but I don't have a good feeling about this. I think if this deal was going to go through, it would have happened by now.

In other news, our Save-a-Seat day at the Tank will be in about a month. Doug and I will have to get together and talk strategy- which sections we want, what price ranges, all that crap. It's a very exact science.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Draft day activity

I actually watched some of the NHL draft. I guess I am now officially hardcore. I mostly watched because the rumors are that the Sharks are going to trade either Toskala or Nabokov, and a lot of deals go down on draft day for picks. The Sharks made a minor deal, trading their first and second round picks to Montreal for their first round, so they could draft Ty Wishart, a defensemen. There were two big trades so far- Alex Tanguay was traded to the Flames for Jordan Leopold and a 2nd round pick on Friday. On draft day, the Wild traded a prospect and a 1st round pick for Pavol Demitra.

It's fun to see what these trades say about the teams involved. In the first trade, Calgary is recognizing that they need offense, and are willing to give up D to get it. The Avs clearly aren't super confident that they are going to re-sign Rob Blake, so they wanted to shore up blueline help. The second trade says that the Wild are ready to spend cash to make a legitimate playoff run, and hope that Demitra will entice Marian Gaborik to stay. As for the Kings, they aren't expecting to contend for the division, and are rebuilding.

Lots of rumors floating around. Apparantly the Kings offered Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown (Doug says Mattieu Garon too) for Nabokov. Two problems with that deal. The first big reason is I don't want to play against Nabokov 8 times a year. The second is that neither Frolov or Brown are really proven scorers. Frolov is a talented kid, would be great on the power play, but I'm not sure he could ever score 35 or 40. For a solid #1 goalie, you should be able to get that. Brown is so young, he's a wild card. He only had 28 points last year playing the whole season, and was a minus player. That's 4th line material.

Doug told me about two more rumors. The Lightning are offering Ruslan Fedotenko and Frederik Modin for Nabby. Same problem with that deal as the Kings deal- I don't think the players are good enough. They are both roughly 50 point scorers. I'd rather get a 70 or 80 point scorer for Nabby than two 3rd or 4th liners. The last is the Sens are offering Martin Havlat for Toskala. Now we're talking! Havlat is a great scorer, and had a great playoffs (6-5-11 in 9 games) after coming back from a shoulder injury last year. I would make that deal. Imagine Cheechoo, Thornton, and Havlat on a line! Or even Marleau with Havlat would be awesome.

Friday, June 23, 2006

MVP! MVP!

Joe was voted the league MVP by the Hockey Writers Association, otherwise known as the Hart Trophy. He also got the Art Ross trophy, for most points during the season, with 125. Jonathan Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard trophy (most goals). Only the 3rd, 4th, and 5th NHL trophies in the history of the Sharks franchise. Nabokov won the Calder (top rookie) in 2001, and Tony Granato won the Masterson (top comeback player) in 1997. The major trophies are the Hart, Norris, Selke (top defensive forward), Calder, Vezina (top goalie), and Adams (top coach). The Ross, Richard, and Jennings trophies are based on statistical results, so there's no voting. Everybody knows who is winning at any given time.

There are a bunch of what I would call "lesser" awards given too. The Lady Byng, Pearson (MVP voted by players), Masterson, and King Clancy (leadership) are among those. Actually, I don't know that the Lady Byng is even good- it's generally given out to a good to great offensive player with very few penalty minutes. In other words, it's the "wuss" award. Marleau coming in 3rd out of 3 is actually a good thing. I don't mean to sound like sour grapes, but do you know who's won 5 Lady Byng trophies? Wayne Gretzky. I've never heard Wayne as a winner of "4 Stanley Cups, 8 Hart trophies, and 5 Lady Byng trophies". In hockey, taking the fewest penalty minutes is not a good thing- it means you don't get nasty enough.

I'm actually pretty surprised that Thornton won. Jagr was leading the points race until very late in the season, and he nearly won the Richard until Cheechoo overcame him. Jagr was more or less written off as a spoiled superstar who lost the touch, and he came out roaring this year for the Blueshirts. Given the general east coast bias in hockey, and the fact that Jagr nearly won both the points and the goals race, I figured he'd win. But I think the Devils' destruction of the Rangers in the first round hurt his chances.

Joe definitely deserved it more. The Sharks were on a 10 game losing streak when we traded for him, and we played roughly .700 hockey the rest of the season. There's no doubt in my mind that if we didn't make that trade, we would not have made the playoffs, and possibly finished last in the division. Plus combine Joe's amazing hands and passing ability with Cheechoo's fantastic release and pinpoint accuracy, and you have one of the top lines in the NHL. He clearly made the players around him better.

One of my favorite things about hockey is they actually name stuff after people, and it has meaning. It's not the NHL championship trophy, it's the Stanley Cup. It's not the top defenseman trophy, it's the Norris. And while other sports have names for their awards, in the NHL those names are used primarily. In the hockey world, you don't say Chris Pronger won MVP and top D in 2000, you say he won the Hart and Norris trophies, and everyone knows what that means. It's just kinda cool. I wish the NHL kept the old division and conference names too, but I understand that can be pretty confusing. It makes sense that the Sharks are in the Pacific division in the Western conference, but it would be tougher to remember that the Blackhawks were in the Smythe division in the Campbell conference.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not re-signing Scott Thornton is a big mistake

The AP just reported that the Sharks have declined the option to resign Scott Thornton for the 2006-2007 season for 1.7 million. Interesting quote in the article:

"It's not every player you do this for, but I have a lot of respect for him," Wilson said. "This gives him time to check out his options."
Thornton is 35. I hope the Sharks don't actually think that they are doing him a favor. I'm not saying that Thornton isn't a good player, or that his career is over. I found an unofficial list of NHL salaries for last season, and a did a quick search to see what other players are making between $1.6M and $1.8M last year. Thornton made $1.71M, and that was the size of his option. Here's the list:
  • Sean Burke
  • Mark Denis
  • Manny Fernandez
  • Brett Hull (since retired)
  • Mike Johnson
  • Filip Kuba
  • Jamie Lagenbrunner
  • Robin Regehr
  • Dwayne Roloson
  • Dick Tarnstrom
  • Donald Brashear
  • Mike Comrie
  • Mathieu Dandenault
  • Viktor Kozlov
  • Paul Mara
  • Jaroslav Modry
  • Sean O'Donnell
  • Cory Stillman
  • Colin White
It's a long list, so there's lots of possible comparisons here. If I were starting a team, and I had to rank these players by who would help me the most, I think I would only take Thornton over Sean Burke, Viktor Kozlov, and Donald Brashear. So the idea that the Sharks didn't exercise his option for his own good is patently ridiculous. He will not get $1.7M someplace else.

All that being said, the Sharks should have picked up his option for two big reasons.

1. He's Joe Thornton's cousin. Hockey has more relatives in the sport than any other, and lots of times those family bonds are strong. I'm not sure how close Joe is with Scott, but I do know Joe was living in Scott's house after he was traded to San Jose. Look at Scott Neidermayer- he went to the Ducks so he could play with his brother. Cutting Scott lose can only hurt the relationship the Sharks have with Joe- it cannot help.

2. He's a great role player and a fan favorite. There should be no sacred cows, but a lot of fans were pissed when we let Mike Ricci go, me among them. The fans, after all, are the ones that (primarily) pay the salaries. Why not take the option, put him in training camp against the youngsters, and trade him to a team making a playoff run if it doesn't work out? The Sharks are nowhere close to the salary cap here, one that will be raised to $44M for 06-07.

There's only one (poorly disguised) reason why the Sharks let him go- because they didn't want to pay him. And now Doug Wilson has put even more pressure on himself to get some decent free agents. You can't raise ticket prices by 10%, get rid of popular players, and make no signings in the offseason. Not if you don't want to get drilled in the press.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Great Game 7, Great Series

Carolina managed to pull it out last night in a great Game 7, which capped off a great Stanley Cup Finals series. Certainly the best I've seen this millennium. The back and forth of the Devils-Ducks series was pretty fun, but that series had 4 (four!) shutouts. This series had two, but they were 4-0 and 5-0 beatdowns. The play of this year's finals versus 2003 is night and day. Lots of skating and passing, and high speed hits.

I read that game 3 in L.A., shown at 5pm, lost in the ratings to I Love Lucy reruns. Not good. Game 1 lost nationwide to college softball. I don't think that second stat is really a fair comparison, because the hockey game was on OLN, and softball was on ESPN. OLN isn't available in 20% of homes, and I think ESPN is close to 100%. But the I Love Lucy stat is pretty brutal, because that's in a market that has OLN and two NHL franchises.

I guess I could lament the loss of hockey from mainstream sports consciousness, but I'm not that concerned. I have season tickets and an internet connection. I can find just about as much hockey coverage as I want. As soon as they start streaming TV over the net, which OLN has done already, this will become a purely academic argument. Hockey isn't talked about enough on ESPN or in the sports pages? Boo hoo. Heck, my favorite sports to watch on TV are hockey and beach volleyball. And I love watching cricket too, although I don't understand about 50% of it. I guess I'm used to searching for good programming.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My wish came true

What a beatdown. The Oilers dropped 4 goals on Carolina, and didn't give up any in game 6. There were a few minutes at 3-0 where it looked like the Canes may fight back and make it a game, but the Oilers were just too tough. The Hurricanes were without Aaron Ward and Doug Weight, but Eric Cole managed to come back. I wouldn't say he was really effective however.

Game 7 is going to be interesting. In Raleigh, I expect the fans to be as crazy as the Edmonton fans in game 6. I'm still holding strong and picking Carolina, but I'm glad I don't have money on it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oilers are not done

So I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Those damn Oilers have found a way to claw back into this series, winning in overtime in game 5. The game was pretty exciting, with 5 goals scored in the first period. Then it tightened up quite a bit, and went into OT deadlocked at 3. Then about three and a half minutes into OT, with Carolina on the power play, Cory Stillman tried to make a cross ice pass at his own blueline. His stick was partially hooked, which prevented Stillman from putting the mustard on the pass you would expect. Pasani intercepted the lame duck pass at the blueline, walked in alone, and beat Ward with a wrist shot over the glove.

Although I'm rooting for the Canes, I have to admire the Oilers' pluck. They came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Sharks, and with Game 6 in Canada, I have to think there's more than a decent chance it'll go back to Carolina for Game 7. In which case I'll be in hog heaven. There's nothing better than NHL Game 7s. Except for Game 7s in overtime. So I'm sort of half-rooting for the Oilers at home on Saturday. If they win, I'll have a dilemma- watch game seven on Monday or go to the "State of the Sharks" event at the Tank? I think I'd rather watch hockey than talk about it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oilers are done

I picked the outcomes of game 3 and 4 correctly so far, and let's see if I can keep the streak going. Carolina will win game 5 at home, and end the series. The Oilers are (were?) a good team at home, but so is Carolina. The Canes just move the puck too well, and while the Oilers' thunderous hits in Edmonton sure got the crowd going, it didn't help enough. Keep in mind that Carolina was minutes away from OT in game 3, so I wouldn't say that physical play was the key. They just got a great goal late from Ryan Smyth.

Doug and I are going to the "State of the Sharks" presentation at the Tank next week. Maybe we can think of some questions to ask the Wilsons and Cheechoo. Of course we can't ask them specific questions about off-season moves and expect them to get answers. Questions like "Which free agents specifically are you looking at, and what would you give up to get them?". I'm hoping to get an idea of what kind of players the Sharks are looking for. Are we going to try and get a replacement for Ekman, who was pretty silent in the playoffs? What about a veteran D to help the youngsters? I would anticipate some questions about the "impending" goalie controversy, but frankly, I don't care that much about it. Nabokov is still great, Toskala is great, and Nolan Schaefer is very good. Regardless of the combination the Sharks field next season, I think it'll be fine. Personally, I would rather play Nabokov a bit before we trade him, because I'm confident his stock will rise once GMs see that he hasn't lost it.

I found this unofficial list of free agents, and I'm drooling over some of the names there. Jovanovski, Kubina, Redden or McKee would be nice defensive pickups. On the offensive side, I'm looking at Doug Weight, Marc Savard, Sergei Samsonov, Patrick Elias, and Jason Arnott would be cool, though Dallas would never let us sign him. And don't forget Owen Nolan! If the Sharks can get him for a song, I say take him- he's a fan favorite.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A game into the finals

So I've been AWOL, and Doug hasn't been any better. The Sharks lose, the Oilers win, and the world goes topsy-turvy. I was on vacation for the middle of May, so I was spared the despair of watching the Sharks lose four straight. And then I managed to watch a bit of an exciting Eastern finals, and none of a boring Western one.

So now we're here. Carolina vs. Edmonton. Before game 1, my feelings were mixed. I figured the Canes were a better team, but I might root a bit for the Oilers. Mainly because they beat the Sharks, and I just don't like the idea of the Cup in a southern state. When the Canes are bad, no one comes to the games, just like Tampa. But Edmonton sells out every game, good, bad, or indifferent. I like to see Canadian teams win. But after watching a bit of game one, I couldn't do it. I hate Chris Pronger (so much I'd like to see him play for the Sharks) and I hate Roloson even more. That dude is a major flopper. That's one of my pet peeves in the NHL. The goalie goes behind the net or out of the crease for some reason, and if a person even touches them they fall down like they've been shot and run over by a bus at the same time. Roloson pulled this crap and got the call. But there's a hundred guys trying to jockey for position in the crease and he stays upright, as solid as a rock.

So I start rooting for the Canes when they make it 3-1, and we watch the wheels completely fall off Edmonton. The Canes make it 3-3 very quickly, then it's 4-4, and then it happens. Roloson actually gets run into for real, because his defensemen pushes somebody into him. He goes down, and is replaced by Ty Conklin, a goalie so strong he not only lost the starting job this year, he lost the backup job for a while and was sent to the minors. There's about 5 minutes left in the game, and Doug turns to me and says "Conklin's gonna cough it up- Hurricanes win." And you know the rest. Conklin coughs it up behind the net, Brind'Amour has a wraparound with 31 seconds left, game over. Now we know that Roloson is out for the series.

I think the Canes will win now, more than ever. I'd be a complete moron if I thought different. But I do think the Oilers will make Carolina sweat a bit- they will win at least one game in Canada. But the Canes are winning again tonight.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A week into the playoffs (almost)

We are now 6 days into the playoffs, and all of the series have played three games so far. I've only had the opportunity to see a few of them, though I've watched a lot of games. After the disconcerting 4-0 loss in Game 1, the Sharks seemed to have regained their offensive form, winning games 2 and 3 in pretty decisive fashion. Game 4 tonight in SJ is absolutely key. If the Sharks lose game 4, then game 5 is in Nashville, and we could be looking at game 6 down 3-2. We'll be in the driver's seat if we win tonight.

As for the other series, I sure know how to pick 'em. If the current leaders in all the series go on to win, I'll be 2-6. All three of my underdog picks are losing (the Sharks don't count as an underdog), and there are two huge upsets in the works in Edmonton and Montreal. Carolina, while not playing well, managed to win last night, so they could pull it out. Same with Detroit, but the Oilers have a history of being giant killers.

New prediction- Joe Thornton will have 2 points or more tonight.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eastern Match Ups

Like the West, I'm picking two lower seeds to advance in the Easter Conference first round. Here are my thoughts:

Buffalo vs. Philadelphia - For some reason, the Flyers find a way to win the first round, then lose later. I'm predicting that trend will continue. I must say that this is the series that I'm least informed about- I have only seen Philly play a few times this season, and maybe Buffalo never. It could be that bias that's causing me to pick against the Sabres- a team with balanced scoring but no stars. Afinogenov and Kotalik are good, but Forsberg and Gagne are better. If Forsberg gets hurt and misses a lot of time, I can see the Flyers losing this series. My prediction is that Forsberg stays intact for this round, and the Flyers advance.

New Jersey vs. New York (Rangers) - New York went on a horrible slide to end the season, and the Devils did just the opposite, winning 11 in a row. Martin Brodeur, as always, is the key to the Devils' success. The Devils still play their brand of shutdown hockey, but their D isn't as strong as past years, with Niedermayer and Stevens gone. I think the Rangers' O will overcome the Devils' D, with Jagr, Prucha, and Nylander all scoring. The Devils will need random goals from random players. Brian Gionta has 48 this year (where did he come from??), but after Scott Gomez, the scoring gets pretty scarce. No other Devil has over 20. When it comes down to it, I think the Rangers will have a better shot of shutting down Gionta than the Devils have of shutting down Jagr. This is a HUGE underdog pick, I think the Devils are -240 in Vegas.

Carolina vs. Montreal - Everyone is talking about the loss of Eric Cole, and it does hurt Carolina, but not as much as everyone thinks. I think Montreal may be able to steal a game or maybe two, but the 'Canes are too strong. They have four good centers in Brind'Amour, Staal, Recchi and Weight (Weight is playing the wing now), and plenty of D. Add to that a breakout year in goal for Martin Gerber and the best faceoff man in hockey (Brind'Amour), and you've got a team that is in a position to win the Cup. Les Habitants are similar in makeup to Carolina, but just not as good. Cristobal Huet has really come on late in the season, but neither him nor David Aebischer are playoff tested. I just don't think the Canadians can keep up.

Ottawa vs. Tampa Bay - Scott Burnside in ESPN has picked the Lightning to upset the Sens, but I don't think he could be more wrong. Ottawa has had a terrible reputation for coming into the playoffs as a high seed, and folding in the first round. Everyone in town will be intent on not taking the 1-8 matchup lightly. The Senators will come out fast and hard, and Tampa Bay, while having one of the better defensive corps in the East, do not have the goaltending. They hoped that John Grahame would be the obvious #1, but they've ended up platooning him with Sean Burke. I see some big games in this series from the top line. Even if Kubina and Sydor can shut down the best line in hockey (Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza), Ottawa can hurt you with Havlat, Smolinski, and Schaefer. If Hasek doesn't make it back, I can see the Senators being vulnerable in later rounds, but not in the first round.

Can't wait for the first games tonight!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Matchups are Set In the West

Actually, the matchups are set in both conferences, but I'm only going over the West today. I might be doing a little devil's advocate work here, and pick some underdogs. Unlike ESPN, which makes for some pretty boring articles. Ok, they picked the Sharks, but as I talked about before, that's hardly going out on a limb.

Nashville vs. San Jose - as a Sharks fan it's tough to accurately handicap this series, so I have to go with the Sharks. They have the two hottest players in the league, against a disciplined team with a scrub goalie and several injuries. And their offense isn't that great either. Pop quiz- who has more points- Patrick Marleau or Paul Kariya? Hint: it's not Kariya. The bad news for the Preds is that Marleau isn't even on the top line. Don't get me wrong, the Preds will be a pain in the ass to play against, with Brendan Witt, Kimmo Timmonen and co. on the blue line. But I think our relatively inexperienced blue line coupled with the best goaltending duo in the NHL will be able to solve their offense. And no one in the league right now can stop Thornton and Cheechoo.

Calgary vs. Anaheim - This entire series hinges on one player - Mikka Kiprusoff. If the Kipper can look like he did in the 2003-2004 playoffs (and the regular season this year), the Flames will win. If he stumbles just a bit, the Ducks will steal some games, and the series will be on. My guess is that the complete lack of Calgary scoring will bite them bad, and the Ducks will be able to squeak at least one game out of the first two in Calgary. Anaheim is also a very good team at home, and I could see the series going back to Calgary for game 6 with the Ducks up 3-1. The Ducks' top line of Selanne, McDonald and Kunitz is very good, and it's not all Selanne. Another pop quiz: who has more goals- Andy McDonald or Marleau? Ok, that's cheap - they're tied with 34. I'm going with my gut on this one and picking the Ducks. It won't be a cakewalk by any means; it's going to go at least 6 games, and if the Ducks win, they'll be very beat-up for the conference semis. But I'm still going to be a man and pick Anaheim.

Dallas vs. Colorado - As much as I want to pick Colorado, I can't. The loss of Forsberg, the lack of consistent scoring from Tanguay and Hejduk, and a defensive corps of castoffs like Bob Bougner and Patrice Brisebois adds up to too many mistakes against a solid Stars team. Jason Arnott has been a force, Mike Modano, while rickety, still has some of the best moves in the NHL, and Sergei Zubov has got to be a Norris finalist. If Colorado gets another Conn Smythe performance out of Jose Theodore they might have a shot, but that's a big if considering Theodore hasn't had any quality minutes in months. I doubt this series will even go 6.

Detroit vs. Edmonton - You can say what you want about Manny Legace playoff experience, but the whole Jussi Markkanen-Dwayne Roloson goalie tandem isn't exactly taking the league by storm. Detroit's special teams play just too good, and they don't have any holes other than general age. Without any explosive stars on the Oilers, they don't have much of a chance. This could easily be a sweep.

Feel free to blast me in the comments section, and I'll be back later this week to go over the Eastern Conference.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mea Culpa

I'm a lazy ass. Suffering a little blog burnout here. Doug especially has been really busy. Ok, done with excuses. Now it's time to talk about how bad I screwed up. In the last post, I basically said that the Sharks were done, and would need to go on a crazy tear to make it. I was right about the latter, but wrong about the former. The Sharks have gone 12-3-2 since then, for 26 out of a possible 34 points. They now have 97 points, and are guaranteed at least the 7th spot. They eliminated Vancouver last night, which was particularly sweet. Joe Thornton has had 7 points in the last two games, and is now tied with Jaromir Jagr for the NHL points lead.

What a run! If we win the next two games, we'll clinch the 5th seed, which means we get to play the Predators. Talk about Christmas coming early this year- their all-world goalie, Tomas Vokoun, went out last week with some weird blood disease, and won't be coming back this season. So the Preds will be playing Chris Mason, a 29-year-old journeyman with only 41 games of NHL experience. The old saw says that you win in the playoffs with hot goaltending (see JS Giguere in 2003) and I find it very difficult to believe that Mason will pull it together. The difference between playing Nashville and Calgary will be night and day. Kiprusoff is a Hart and Vezina candidate this year; the Flames could ride him all the way, the way they almost did in 2004. I think that could be a tougher matchup than even Detroit in the first round. If you make it past Detroit, which would be very difficult, you won't be nearly as banged up as making it past Calgary.

Doug and I got playoff tix, so look for a playoff preview once the seedings are set, and game analysis once the games start. I'm so excited! We're going to Fan Appreciation night on Monday too, so hopefully we'll win some free stuff.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3/4 pole

The season is 75% over, and the Sharks currently have 71 points, 5 out of a playoff spot. San Jose has won their last three games, and have three more home games to go before a 5 game road trip. Here's my current status report, done in the same style as my half-season report:

Offense: The Sharks have scored 197 goals, 9th in the West. Their top line still scores very consistently (Thornton is the NHL points leader right now, and Cheechoo had his 4th hat trick of the season on Monday night). The problem is, the second and third lines aren't scoring as much as I would hope. I predicted that Marleau would score more, and he has (29 goals, his career high). But the other young players that I thought would flourish against 2nd and 3rd line D have come up short. Michalek has only 13 goals. Goc has 15 points, and is -12. I think the top line has as much firepower as any other in the NHL, but if they hit a cold streak, I've seen zero evidence that other players will pick up the slack.

Defense: Still spotty. I expected the Sharks to be in the hunt for a veteran defenseman at the deadline, but no big moves happened. Hannan has gotten his +/- up to a -3, which is quite an accomplishment given where he was earlier in the year. Erhoff looks solid, Murray hits like a freight train, but the jury's out on Gorges and Davison. On Monday, the Sharks gave up a goal twice on the shift following a Sharks goal. Everyone knows that a successful shift after you score is critical to keep the momentum, and the Sharks couldn't keep it. On the positive side, the Sharks have looked horrible with 1-goal leads late in the game, and this time, they kept it without too much scrambling.

Special Teams: Both the PP and PK have improved since midseason- both are middle of the pack. I think I saw a stat a few weeks ago that said that the Sharks are over 20% on the PP since the Thornton trade. It's amazing watching the D clear out when Joe has the puck on the half boards- they know how dangerous his passing is. I which he would shoot a touch more from that spot though.

Goaltending: I was very surprised to see the Sharks re-sign both Toskala and Nabokov, and not trade either. That being said, Toskala has clearly been the better goalie since the halfway point. It's a good feeling knowing you have two quality goalies for the playoff run, but I wonder if there will be a controversy next season if Toskala continues to play well. Nabby had a great Olympics and will want to be the starter.

Looking Forward: The Sharks are picking up speed at the right time, but their margin for error is now very small. With LA, Vancouver, and Edmonton struggling, the Sharks must win every game against inferior opposition. The last two and a half weeks of the season are absolutely brutal- 10 games in 17 days in April. If I had to choose right now, I would say that the Sharks will not make the playoffs. But as a fan, I think of all the opportunities they have this month. if SJ can beat STL twice, and win the Chicago, Columbus, and Phoenix games, that will put us at 81 points with 10 games to go. If the Sharks can get 11 more points in April, I think they will make the playoffs. Only two of the games in April are against teams not in the top 8 (and one is against the Ducks, who are ahead of us), so that's actually a pretty tall order.

Trading Note: I'm glad Niko Dimitrakos is gone, and I don't really care that much about the Ville Niemonen pickup. While it would have been nice for Doug Wilson to get another D man, I'm glad he didn't trade away high draft picks or young players to get a 3-month rental. There's plenty of cap room, so I'm hoping for some free agent fireworks in the off season.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Stats

My friend Jeremy sent out an email recently where all NHL teams with PP% + PK% was over 100. His idea was that teams with PP+PK>100 will make the playoffs. Unfortunately, that list has a couple of weird teams in it. Minnesota is 106. Boston and Phoenix are over 99. And LA is third from the bottom, with 94.1. I tried to put the table in here, but I can't get blogger to put it in right. If I put in the html, it's looks like crap. I uploaded a gif of the table from Excel, but it shrinks it to nothing. If you want the data, email me.

This has all of those stats , plus a few more. The bottom line is how each column correlates to each of the states. 1 means a perfect correlation, 0 means no correlation. Wins has an almost perfect correlation to the number of points a teams has (duh!), and the number of games played has almost no correlation to the number of points (also duh). But lets look at the other stats. Wins and losses mean points, so seeing that those strongly correlate isn't really suprising or useful either. But let's look at PP%, PK%, and PP+PK. PP% correlates stronger than PK% to the number of points a team has, so that implies that it's better to have a good power play than a good kill. But PP+PK has a higher correlation still. Also, if you rank the teams by their PP and PK, and have a rank for the best PP+PK, that's an even better correlator than strictly PP%+PK% (but very close). Even though there are some outlier team in the PP+PK stat, it's still the best correlator to points.

The rightmost column is a little experiement of mine called Pythagorean Points. Rob Neyer and others have used the Pythagorean theorem for years to try and predict the number of wins and losses a baseball team has based on their run scored and runs allowed. This is a similar thing that I modified to try and apply it to hockey. Ties make it hard. I calculated the average number of points a teams scores in each game (1.11), then times that by two, then that by the pythangorean percentage. It's good to see which teams have been "lucky" this season. It stands to reason that if you score 200 goals and give up 200, your winning percentage should be about .500. If it's not, that means you've been somewhat lucky. Philly is a good example. Scored 213, given up 212, and are 35-20-10. Ottawa is somewhat unlucky. They've scored 252, only given up 152, and have 91 points. According to my results, on average a team with that GF/GA ration should have over 100 points already.

Anyway, something to think about and comment on.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

New Look Sharks

5-2 win over the Oilers? Sharks pull away in the third period instead of collapse? Sharks played physical hockey and bullied the finesse style Oilers?

Sounds like a dream, right? No Sharks fans - the boys had a new look tonight and it paid off as we pulled back to six points out of the final playoff spot. The Sharks sent out a physical line up with the return of Scott Parker, rookie Steve Bernier and new Finnish bruiser Ville Nimenen. Doug Wilson managed to get a third round draft pick for Dimitrakos - which means he basically swapped Niko for Nimenen, a deal I'd make any day in my sleep. Niko hadn't scored a goal since December 2nd - yes, that's right, December 2nd!! Mark Smith was the roster spot casualty tonight - the only notable healthy scratch. He could return if McCauley and Goc continue to sputter - although they had some jump playing along side Mr. Parker.

It was nice to see Doug Wilson not push the panic button and over pay for some mediocre deadline rental like Recchi or Mark Parrish. The Oilers gave up too much for Samsanov and Roloson laid a major egg in his first start for Edmonton. They gave up a first round pick for a guy who was 6-17-1 this year? Looks like Edmonton might have screwed the pooch here...

Nashville in town on Saturday. Huge game for the Sharkies. We have a huge homestand and if the boys can take four out of five - we'll be right back in this thing. Can they play like they did tonight? I think so.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympic "Sports"

There are two Olympic sports I actually get excited about- biathalon and curling. I watched a 12.5km biathalon, and it was very exciting; I'm not kidding. The lead changed hands a bunch of times because if you miss shots you have to ski around a little penalty oval, which allows other people to catch you. If you choke and miss a bunch of shots, you're pretty screwed. This particular race had a veteran from Norway take the lead after the last shooting stage despite starting 14th. A much younger guy from France caught him in the last 100m sprint. Great stuff.

And I like curling because it's completely unlike any other Olympic sport- it has a very physical component, but is much more about strategy. Plus it has a whole world of jargon that is completely impenetrable to the average viewer. I spent the first hour or two just trying to figure out what the hell the announcers are saying.

I was reading Tom Benjamin's blog, and he presented a definition of what a sport really is. I think it's a good question, because when you think about it, most Olympic "sports" aren't really sports.

My big thing is that a sport has to have an objective result. That is, using scientific or other measurement, the winner is determined. Tom calls it an "unambiguous result". That means all the judging events are not sports. Figure skating, gymnastics, snowboarding, ballroom dancing- not sports. I'm not saying they aren't worthwhile pursuits, or that they don't take an incredible amount of skill and ability. I'm saying that when the results of the competition are determined by a judge, it ain't a sport any more- it's a pageant.

A sport also has to have generally physically fit or strong participants. Bass fishing is out. Bowling and pool are out. Poker is out. I think curling is on the edge here. I'm not saying all the participants have to necessarily be fit (see David Wells), but being in shape has to be considered a distinct advantage. You can be a fat guy with a strong right arm and still bowl 300.

Finally, the participants should break a sweat during the course of the activity, and not due to the elements or stress. Not sweating because it's cold is the exception, so swimming, cross country skiing (although they sweat) and curling are in (barely). I think this means that auto racing is out, and maybe even golf.

I'm sure this will piss people off, because most of the sports that fail the first criterion are popular with women, but it is what it is. That's why they should encourage sports where being nimble and light is a benefit, like rock climbing.

Olympics are Over

I didn't post a single thing about Olympic hockey until now. Why? There's no nice way to say it, so I'll just come right out:

I don't care.

Yep. Call me a unpatriotic anti-hockey moron, but it's the truth. I watched precisely one game- the U.S. vs Slovakia, in which we lost 2-1. I don't really see the point in NHL players playing in the Olympics. They arrive the day before the hockey games start, and leave the day after they're done. They don't walk in the opening or closing ceremonies. The players are pretty much guns for hire. And not even all the best players come- see Scott Niedermayer et al.

The idea that NHL players will bring more fans to the NHL didn't work in 2002, and I'd be even more surprised if it worked this year, considering the Olympics got a ratings beatdown by both American Idol and Desperate Housewives.

And because they are guns for hire, the teams don't have any flow, any continuity of play. Certain players seem to click because they play with each other in the NHL, or on past Olympic or World Cup teams, but for the most part the play is disjointed and difficult to watch. Even after watching one period of the U.S. game, I was frustrated. You see great players like Mike Modano skating around in their own little hockey system, a different system than all the other players'. After seeing that, I still thought Canada would win gold, but I could see how they could be beaten- simply by playing a team that's all on the same page. And sure enough, they got shut out twice and didn't medal.

Bring back the true amateur players, and coach 'em up for a few months. Maybe they won't be the best players in the world, but at least they'll have a vague idea as to what the other guys on the ice are trying to do. Sure, I won't have heard of many of them, but how many non hockey fans could name more than 2 Olympians this year?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

OLYMPIC MEDAL ROUND

Switzerland? Finland? Slovakia? Has the world gone crazy? What happened to the Olympic powers, you may ask? Don't worry...they're going to show up starting tomorrow. Here's a preview of the first round match-ups.

FINLAND vs. USA
Hmmm...I'm not sure what to make of this one. The way Finland has played stingy defense combined with the USA's tendency to not score goals could spell doom for an upset - but I guarantee that Team Stars and Stripes is happier to see Finland than Canada in this spot. Color me crazy - but I smell an upset. USA 4 FINLAND 3

SWEDEN vs. SWITZERLAND
Three words to discribe the Swiss run to Gold. IT IS OVER. This game isn't even worth breaking down. After two ties to Germany and Italy - Switzerland blew its load early. SWEDEN 5 SWITZERLAND 1

CANADA vs. RUSSIA
Oh man. I had picked this to be the Gold Medal game and in a way, I still think it's true. Whoever wins this game could march all the way to gold. All signs point to Russia winning a wild one here - Nabby has been hot, Brodeur is banged up, Canada has been pushed around and the power play has been mortal. But....I think Team Canada will finally become interested and will not allow themselves to go home early. They looked bored and now with Gold on the line - they show up.
CANADA 5 RUSSIA 3

SLOVKIA vs. CZECH REPUBLIC
Great match-up. Slovakia is another team that surprised many in running the table in Round One. Will Vokoun get a chance to redeem himself or will the Czechs make a big mistake and play the rookie. I think they play the rookie....and they lose.
SLOVIA 6 CZECH REP 3

That would mean USA vs. SWEDEN and SLOVAKIA vs. CANADA in the Semis...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

OLYMPIC PREVIEW

The 2006 Olympics are here and the men's hockey is off and running. Easy wins this morning for Finland, Sweden and Canada. Italy put up a decent fight and played with lots of passion in front of the home crowd - but Canada's power play is going to be unbeatable in 2006. Canada can come at you with four amazing lines filled with size, speed and skill. Now that Hasek is down for team Czech, there's only two teams that can cut them down. Team Sweden and, I'm saying this now....beware of Team Russia. This team has the ability to skate in and stun the big boys. Nabby is well rested and is more than capable of going on a major run. Here's how I see the medal round playing out.

ROUND 1 - Canada over Kazakhstan. USA over Czechs (in an upset). Sweden over Germany. Russia over Finland.

ROUND 2 - Canada over USA (close one 7-5 Canada). Russia over Sweden.

GOLD MEDAL GAME - Canada vs. Russa. Canada wins 6-5.
Sweden takes the bronze.

You heard it here...from someone who has cash on Team Canada. They are just too good and too deep to lose.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Great Win

The Sharks had a strong first and blockbuster second periods tonight in beating Dallas 6-3. Cheechoo had two goals, and even more promising, the power play looked very good. They had a 5-3 power play that immediately preceded Joe Thornton's goal- he scored just a second or two after the 2 man advantage expired. And in other power plays, the puck movement was very good, shots came from the point through screens, and they cycled well.

The only down moments came in the 3rd when Dallas scored two goals in quick succession to make it 5-3 after the Sharks led 5-1 after two. I could sense the crowd reeling at the Tank, hoping the Sharks wouldn't find a way to lose or tie, the same way they've done too many times this season. But Toskala had a couple of strong saves right after the third Dallas goal, the defense started clamping down, and the offense was actually trying to manufacture chances, as opposed to waiting in the neutral zone, and dumping it in every time they got possession.

The Sharks have to be shopping Toskala at this point. He's played the last two games, despite Nabokov being re-signed to a 5 year deal. There's no doubt in my mind that management is playing Toskala so other teams can see what he can do. I think trading Toskala is a good idea at point, provided two things- 1) that we get real long term value in return and 2) he goes to a team in the East. The Kiprosoff deal is still hurting the Sharks, witness the Sharks loss to them on Monday when he made 28 saves.